Everything so far has been before about 1980. Someday I'll put together a series of more recent stories. You always want to have more plans than you have time to do them. Anyway, until I do, here are a few from more recent years.
My first wife, Carrie, married Bob Ross several years after we divorced. The relationship among them and us is very good, in spite of the divorce. By coincidence, Bob is an engineer at General Electric, where I had worked for 13 years, and was a friend of mine there - and still is.
Enter my daughter Shandra, five years old. She and Tara called their new step-dad "Daddy," and they called me "Daddy" too. The difference to them was always clear, even though they called us by the same name. When Bob and Carrie had their own daughter, Maureen, and she was old enough to "sleep over" also, she called me "Daddy" for several years, then modified it to "Daddy Bob." There were Bobs galore. Pretty weird, but lots of fun.
It so happens that my wife Sharon has loved cats her whole life - and been the owner of three Burmese cats. They have such great dispositions. We had a female named Sammie, which Sharon had bred with another Burmese. We sold the cute kittens for a couple of hundred dollars apiece, and we earned every dollar. While the kittens were there, the girls loved holding and petting and playing with them.
One time when we had little kittens, Shandra began looking all over the house for something. She looked high and low, and came back into the bedroom, where we were playing with the kittens on the bed. "Where's da Bob cat?" she asked, puzzled that she couldn't find the father.
This being my second marriage, we would have Tara and Shandra "sleep over" just about every weekend, when they were young. We lived only a few blocks away, so the logistics were easy. When I was a boy, the question was, "Mom, can I stay all night at Melvin's house?" But my girls taught me the newer "sleep over" phrase, which I like much better. Or maybe it's just California slang vs. Missouri slang.
We have a pool table in an upstairs room, and Tara was just old enough to learn how to use a pool cue. Shandra was too young, but she loved to be where stuff was going on, like I did as a kid. Tara and I were at opposite ends of the pool table, and Shandra was watching from the side. Tara shot and miscued - the cue ball rolling off to the side. "Sh--," Tara said. "What'd you say?" I asked, unbelieving. "I said... I said... SHOOT. I said SHOOT." "You did not. Come here!"
Tara started giggling, "No, I said 'shoot', Daddy, I said 'shoot'." I began chasing Tara around the pool table to catch her. She was like a fox and kept running around the table - keeping it between us all the time. We were both laughing uncontrollably after a while. So I had to pretend to be upset, "You come here, you!" I managed through my laughter.
Shandra was enjoying this to no end, and when Tara and I were back in our original places, I paused to catch my breath. "I'm gonna get you," I said. Shandra jumped off her chair, yelled, "Sh--!", and joined Tara at the other end of the pool table - ready for the chase.
She had watched this ride long enough to want to get on, and she thought she knew what the ticket was.
I caught them a little later, marched them into the bathroom, and put a little soap on their tongues. "You said a dirty word, so we have to wash your mouths out with soap," I said. "Ooh, thith ith awfuw," they managed to say without using their soapy tongues.
"OK, rinse." I had to try to appear stern, even though I had trouble not laughing even more.
I left GE in 1978 to join a consulting engineering company now called Quadrex. A couple of years later, two others and I left them to form a new company.
As one-third of the owners of Nuclear Software Services, Inc., or NSS, in 1983, I volunteered to go to New Jersey's Oyster Creek Nuclear Power Station for a radiation training update. I had worked there as an employee for GE in the summer of 1969 just before the plant's startup, and I knew the plant and some of the people that were still there. The problem was that when I went back to Oyster Creek to work a week or two at a time, I had to have an escort with me at all times while in the plant, since it had been so long since I had updated my radiation training. Even escorted to the bathroom. Government-mandated regulations.
But if I took the training update, I could be on my own. Jersey Central Power & Light wanted me to do that, and I wanted to do that. So I went to New Jersey for radiation training renewal for a week, then would follow that with a week's worth of work.
The first day I went in and sat down in a fairly large class -- perhaps 30 people. The instructor came in and reminded me a little of Batman, a classmate of mine at Stanford, who was from Philadelphia.
But our instructor was brash, cocky, more than a little obnoxious, had the New Jersey/New York accent, and thought of himself as a standup comedian temporarily giving radiation classes, it seemed. He started talking.
"A stepoff pad is one-way. You always assume the pad itself is dirty (a term meaning that it has radiation contamination on it). Do NOT step on that pad in your street shoes. Put on clean rubbers, THEN step on the pad on your way INTO the radiation area. If you DO step on the pad in your street shoes, I'll slap your pee-pee stick.
"When you are coming out of the area, step onto the pad with your rubbers. Leaving your gloves on, peel off your rubbers one at a time and throw them in the collection container. Peel off your left one, then step off of the pad into the clean area with your street shoe. Peel off the other one, drop it in the container, then put your street shoe down onto the clean floor.
"If you step onto the clean floor with your contaminated rubbers, I'll slap your pee-pee stick."
He then looked gleefully at all of us to make sure we were getting it. It was pretty funny the first time, and way not the tenth time.
Finally, getting tired of it, one guy raised his hand. "Yes," the instructor said, acknowledging him. "What's a pee-pee stick?" our hero asked. The room exploded with laughter at the cleverness of the question, which in reality was saying for all of us, "You're an idiot."
"A wise guy, huh?" he said. "I'll slap your pee-pee stick if you're not careful." He didn't know when to stop.
Sharon and I had gone to Monterey for the day. It was about 1985. We took Tara (11), Shandra (9), and Maureen (4) with us - to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Maureen is the daughter of Carrie (my first wife) and her husband and our friend, Bob Ross. Then we decided to eat in an Italian restaurant, which had a view out onto Monterey Bay.
We were seated at a long table. Those were the last few months that Maureen needed a booster chair, and in fact if there wasn't one available, she would just sit on her knees and eat that way.
We had ordered our pizza and spaghetti and were just enjoying the pleasant afternoon, when Maureen began looking around the restaurant. Through a door she spotted a stack of booster chairs. "Hey, they have booster chairs! And I'm here - ON MY KNEES?" It was such an adult way of putting it from such a little person - we all cracked up.
Sharon and I were spending the Christmas and New Year's holiday season in southern California with Sharon's sister Jeane Wood, and her husband Wendell - "Red", to us. They had a trip planned to Death Valley, between the holidays. They pulled an RV trailer behind a big Chevy van, and we were going to meet some of Red's friends from work there, also.
I always think of Death Valley as very hot, even in the winter, but I tell you, I was the second coldest I have ever been in my life that night - sleeping in their trailer. One night in Yosemite, having ridden up on my motorcycle, a ten-dollar sleeping bag was colder.
There is one particular section of Death Valley that is used as background for lots of movies. It is a huge series of sand dunes, and is quite remarkable. We had hooked up with a friend of Red's named Ron Johnson, who had a new motor home, and a brand new video camera.
Ron knew the secret to good videos - that is, lots of narrative to go with the movies. So he was walking and shooting and talking, all at the same time. Red introduced us: "Don, this is Bob and Sharon Lutman." "Hi, nice to meet you." he said. "Let me get a video of you. Just act natural."
He fired up his camera and began to provide the dialogue, "This is Bob and Sharon - what was your last name? Lupkin?" "Lutman," I said. He then continued, "Bob and Sharon Luptun are Wendell's sister- and brother-in-law, from San Jose." Then he wandered off, videotaping, describing what he was shooting.
About a half hour later, the four of us bumped into him on a trail: "Hey, look, it's the Lumbocks and the Woods. How are y'all doin'?"
Since that time, Jeane and Red call us the "Lumbocks," as a great reminder of that Death Valley trip.
Sharon and I pulled a 23-foot Fifth Wheel trailer behind an '89 Chevy Silverado pickup (recently replaced with a '99 Chevy Crew Cab), and we still go camping with Red and Jeane. A common sign that is seen in California state parks is "No Wood Gathering," meaning don't gather wood to make fires, but we always claimed that it meant that no people named Wood could form large groups.
A couple of Christmases ago, we decided to make them a sign carved out of redwood. I bought a set of templates and used my router to make a great sign saying, "No Wood Gathering," and we wrapped it and sent it on down to them. At about the same time, their gifts arrived and the shape of one of their gifts had a familiar look and shape to it. We had planned to celebrate Christmas at their house in Placentia, so we carried their unopened gifts to us back down there.
When we opened our package, it was two engraved pieces of wood. One said, "The Lumbocks." The other said, "I Was Just Sayin'." That refers to a Jerry Seinfeld routine illustrated by the following conversation: Him: "You're NEVER going to lose all that weight." Her: "WHAT???" Him: "I was just SAYIN'." It's amazing how often people say that, to weasel out of something bad they just said.
After I first related this Seinfeld routine, and for the next several years, anytime one of us said something shocking, and the other person said, "What?" Then the first person would back down with, "I Was Just Sayin'."
Don't ever play "Pictionary" against Sharon and my sister Shirley. They don't play fair. What would be fair would be if they didn't get to draw anything at all - just look at each other. Maybe they have to be in separate rooms.
Brother-in-law Jerry and I will beat them some day - you can bet on it. But those women are connected in some world the rest of us can't see.
The Pictionary word was "sythe," and it was an "All Play." We turned over the two minute timer and started. Before I could draw my second line for Jerry to guess, Shirley yelled "sythe." I looked over at what Sharon had completed at the time, and I duplicate her weak effort above.
They do this all the time. We bought Clay Pictionary, and Jerry came up with a great idea. Instead of shaping the figures, we just mashed the clay flat on the table, used it like a piece of paper, got a pencil, and began drawing our pictures on the clay. "No fair," the psychic twins yelled. "You can't do that." They're right. It wasn't fair. We needed more.
I'll tell you what would be fair. We get paper and pencil, and they get a rock, hammer and chisel and they have to sculpt their clues into the rock. Start the timer.
Our house was built around 1970, and we bought it from the original owner in 1980. It was now 1994 and the cedar shake roof was well worn by the sun and the wind and me walking all over it. In the summer - the dry season in the Bay Area - I had to repair potential rain holes. And in the rainy winter, I had to repair actual rain holes I had missed or created in the summer. And I broke as many shingles as I was fixing, by walking on the shake. It was so crumbly.
We had a roof replacement contractor come out to estimate the cost of a new roof, and he sat down in the kitchen to go over his figures. "It's bad," he said. Like I didn't know. He gave us his estimate and did a real good sales job. He showed us testimonial letters praising his work. When he went over the details of the contract, two of the things we were going to be required to do were 1) give us the names of three neighbors or friends he could call on, and 2) write a testimonial letter.
Uh, about those glowing letters you showed us.
We declined. So I went up and repaired the shingles again, trying to fix the ones I broke also. Then one morning, I went out into the back yard, and found batts of insulation, lying on the ground. What the? There were some in the side yard too. I backed away from the house enough to see the roof, and I spotted two holes in the roof. Something was in our attic! Or had been. What the heck could tear a hole through a roof?
I got my ladder and climbed up onto the roof. It's a pretty steep one, dropping about eight inches in twelve. I found the holes, and whatever had done this had neatly torn out the insulation between the roof and ceiling of our vaulted living room.
I got a flashlight and tried to use a mirror, but was afraid to put my hand too far into the holes. Nothing. I waited a day for whatever was in there to leave, and patched the two holes. I had to go to Southern Lumber and buy a big bundle of shake and some asphalt paper to do the repair. I made several more trips over the next year and a half.
This fairly typical event happened over the next few months, till there were about fifteen repaired holes. Plus the same number of shakes I had broken by stepping on them. I built myself a platform, in the shape of a prism, with the complementary angle of the roof, so that when I laid it down on the roof, I had a perfectly level area to sit and work on. I put on a couple of eyebolts, so I would fasten it to the far side of the roof with a C-clamp, and then it wouldn't slide. I also put rubber grips on the bottom, where it touched the roof, to make it even steadier. You can't stand very long on that steep roof without getting sore feet and leg muscles. Then there's the internal strain of worrying that you're gonna fall right off the house. Our neighbor did that a year ago. I think it's about sixteen feet, and he had to have hip surgery. He still limps. Hey, who doesn't if they're over fifty?
One morning, I found the familiar insulation on the ground, as had happened many times before. There were three new roof holes. It was early, and I had just repaired holes the day before, so there was a good chance that the thing was still in the house. I got an idea. Actually I had had the idea for some time, but now I was going to see what it yielded.
I got a flashlight and went into our attic. There is an attic space over most of the house, but the living room is vaulted, and there is only about a one-foot space between the roof and ceiling. If you stand near the middle of the house, at the edge of the existing attic, you can shine your light straight down each channel created by the roof, the ceiling and the bracketing pair of trusses. I shined the light down the channels.
The insulation batts prevented me from seeing all the way down two of the channels, but I saw two glowing, golden eyes illuminated by my flashlight in the third. I still couldn't see a face, but I saw the eyes. Spooky. It could have been a raccoon, a possum, a roof rat, or some other wild thing, although I thought I saw a mask.
Our friend Nancy Burlingame was up from southern California, visiting one evening, and we heard a "slap slap" on the roof. It turned out to be the noise of a paw lifting the edge of a shake, trying to rip it off, but the shingle being too strong, and popping back against the other shakes. I grabbed a flashlight and ran out the back door.
I shined it on the roof, and saw the golden eyes again, only this time they were neatly outlined by the head of a big old raccoon. The master roof wrecker himself. He walked over behind the chimney, where the light wouldn't bother him. I ran and got the ladder, set it up against the house on the far side of the roof peak so he couldn't see me, climbed onto the roof (it's scarier in the dark), and climbed to just short of the peak. I stood up quickly and hit Rocky with the beam, in his hiding spot behind the chimney.
He looked both ways, then ran across the roof to a roof corner where three nice shade trees almost touch the edge of the house. He just stepped right over onto one of the trees and climbed down quickly. I carefully descended to the ladder, came down to the ground and ran around the house to the tree corner. I looked all over. He was gone.
Then we began to see him at night, while we were driving home, going in and out of the storm drains on the corner of our street and its nearest cross street. Over the next months, I came to find out that he'd knocked holes in the roofs of about eight homes, with ours being about in the center of the area.
Years before, I had bought a powerful bow, to go bow hunting for deer in California, with my GE friend Eph Romesberg. At that bow hunting time, we hadn't yet done the Italian car sailing thing. We practiced using snub-nosed arrows called "floo-floos" in his back yard, in the weeks before our first hunting trip. And during that trip, we could only shoot at bucks. So of course, all we saw were does.
I figured I might be able to stick an arrow or two in that old 'coon. One night I got home from my Crohn's and Colitis monthly support group meeting and Sharon told me that our back-yard neighbor had called, saying there was a raccoon in a tree in his back yard. Well the trees in his back yard are one foot over the fence in our back yard, so I got my bow and arrow, my flashlight, and went out the back door. It was dark.
I shined the light all around, and sure enough, I spotted old "golden eyes." He was slowly climbing down a tall pine tree. He was probably heading for the top of our eight-foot fence, which he used as a highway to get around the neighborhood. I put the light between my knees and angled it up towards him. I loaded an arrow. I thought a minute, then went back inside and called John Firth, my neighbor. "Stay inside, I'm going to try to shoot him with my bow and arrow," I warned. He laughed and said they'd stay inside.
Back out I went and resumed the light-between-the-knees position. It was a little awkward. He wasn't fifteen feet from where I stood. I drew back and fired. "Thwock!" The arrow stuck in the tree close to him, but he didn't flinch. I notched another arrow, and fired again, making an adjustment from my miss. "Thwock!" said the arrow as I hit the tree again. Only this time, the raccoon went zipping back up the pine tree - I had nicked him.
So now we've come to the final part of my tale, I hope. It was one night between Christmas and New Year's in 1995. Sharon's folks, Ed and Gretchen Caraway, were staying with us and we were all playing cards. We were expecting daughter Tara to come by to say hello.
I heard a "knock knock" and went to the door. No Tara. Back to the card game. "Maybe our raccoon's back," said Sharon. And I knew he was. It was a slapping, not a knocking! I ran out the back with my flashlight and spotted him on the roof.
He even had one paw under a shake shingle. I came back inside and got everybody. "Ed, go to the tree corner, Gretchen and Sharon, go to the back corner by the chimney." I got the ladder and my weapon and headed up the roof. I sneaked up to the top of the house again on the backside, so Rocky couldn't see me till I popped over. I stood up and shined my light on him. The look on his face said, "Oh no, not you again. Oh well." And he ambled over to the tree corner to escape. Ed started yelling. Rocky stopped and went back to the chimney. I started yelling at him, "Hey, hey, hey." He saw Sharon and Gretchen at the other corner and decided to come over the top and go down the same side I had come up. I was wondering if he was going to attack. But he chose a path which would take him about ten feet from me.
He walked quickly, keeping an eye on me. He climbed onto my side of the roof, and went all the way down, but I was blocking the only escape route on this side. He headed back up to the peak again, perhaps intending to re-check the tree corner. He suddenly stopped about twelve feet away. I drew the bow back as far as I could, aimed for the middle of his wretched body, and let fly. "Thunk," the arrow said as it found raccoon. Rocky didn't move. I couldn't tell for sure if I hit him or not - a street light was right behind him and was sort of shining in my eyes. I reloaded and fired again. I knew I hit him this time.
He headed for the peak again. I could see he was only using his front feet. His back feet were dragging - I had done some heavy damage. YES!!! He went to the tree corner of the roof where Ed was, and I could see the arrows sticking out of him, backlit by the streetlight. Gretchen saw them too. Ed yelled again, but the raccoon went ahead and climbed over into the tree, although he didn't come down. He was licking his wounds.
I got off the roof and got a stepladder. I set it up about six feet from the tree and climbed up. I used my final arrow to take one more shot at him. It "thunked" straight into the tree, missing him. I was out of ammo. Everybody gathered around the tree. "Get something to hit him with," Ed said. Everybody got a shovel or board for defense. We could hear him coming down the tree, but no - it was more of a slipping sound. After about five minutes, he fell out of the tree and landed right on his belly. "Oomph," he said. There was not ONE arrow in him! What the? Then he started growling.
I borrowed the shovel from Ed, and started to put him out of my misery! "I'm gonna hit him in the head," I said, since it was clear he wasn't going anywhere. "No, no," said Ed, "break his back." I tried to argue a little bit, then I thought, "well, OK." I hit him in the back with the flat of the shovel as hard as I could. "Oof," said Rocky, then he growled some more. I hit him two more times, and it didn't seem to have any effect, other than to make him growl. "Just leave him alone and he'll die," Ed said. Then as we watched, he crawled into a bush near the chimney, pulling himself by his front legs.
Now if you are thinking, "That poor raccoon," then you got the wrong picture of this dude. "Let's go in and let him die," Ed said again, so in we went. Tara came over just about then, and we related the story, as it had happened up to that point. She kept saying, "Da-ad," like "how could you hurt a little raccoon?" "Easy!" I said, enjoying every second replaying the arrow shots in my mind. After about ten minutes, I went out to check on him with my flashlight, pushed aside part of the bush and I saw him just lying in there, but still alive. I could see him breathing. There was blood on the ground. EXCELLENT! How does it feel, you dirty rat bastard? Mess with my roof!
Back inside, visit with Tara, back out again about an hour later. NO RACCOON! I walked the yard, didn't find him.
Next morning, I checked the area under the bush again, and found no trace of him, except for the blood I had already seen. I looked on the ground for tracks of blood to indicate which direction he had gone, but there weren't any. I put up the step ladder and climbed into the corner tree he had climbed over to. I found two arrows just lying in a fork in the tree - one almost completely covered with blood. He had pulled one of the arrows out, and the other completely through himself. ALL RIGHT! You're not getting any sympathy from me, you house-wreckin' raccoon from hell.
We found neither hide nor hair of him. When I first started re-telling this story, Sharon revealed a secret: "If I had thought you could actually hit something with that bow and arrow, I'd have never let you shoot at it." I was so proud.
Two summers later, Sharon's younger son Pete and I replaced our roof, with help from some of Pete's friends. We used top quality, raccoon-proof, composition shingles. Occasionally Pete asks, "How's the roof holdin' up?" "Great!" I answer, remembering us walking the roof ridge when the job was complete. And now, once again, I love the sound of rain on the roof.
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Thank you for reading my stories. In closing, I want to pass on the secret of life, as I believe it to be. I saw it on a bumper sticker, several years ago:
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